South Carolina working to reverse decline of blue crab population

The U.S. state of South Carolina recorded a record-low blue crab population in 2023
A pile of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.
Photo courtesy of Marco Lissoni/Shutterstock
4 Min

The U.S. state of South Carolina recorded a record-low blue crab population in 2023. A new piece of  state legislation is aiming to reverse the downward trend. 

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) reported the lowest number of individual blue crabs in 50 years, following a steady decline in population. The South Carolina General Assembly posted a bill on 11 January to adjust how the state handles its harvests to turn things around.

SCDNR Crustacean Research and Monitoring Team Member Michael Kendrick told WCSC research is underway investigating the factors contributing to the population decline.

“I think there are several reasons why we might see changes in blue crab abundance,” Kendrick said. “We continue to work to figure out the relative sort of impacts of these different factors.”

The species is important to South Carolina as both a food source and as a lucrative source of income for the state's fishers. One of the state’s oldest and largest fisheries, blue crab landings are valued at over USD 6 million (EUR 5.6 million) annually. The species also plays a crucial role in the marine food chain, serving as food for bigger fish and consuming smaller marine life.

Commercial and recreational fishers alike have been voicing concerns over the health of the blue crab population. South Carolina does not have any commercial and recreational harvesting limits and does not cap the number of traps or commercial licenses it  issues. According to the SCDNR, that makes it the only state from Virginia to Florida that does not have a limit on the harvest of blue crab.

SCDNR provided recommendations after looking at the sustainability of the species in 2021. The recommendations have been turned into Section 50-5-400 in the South Carolina Code of Laws, which will establish a limit on commercial blue crab licenses and set requirements for obtaining a license.

The bill also states that individuals are eligible to obtain a limited blue crab license if they possessed a valid commercial equipment license for traps during the 2023-24 license year and have verifiable documentation of at least 500 pounds of commercial blue crab landings during the 2023-24, 2022-23, or 2021-22 license years. 

Reporting by Carli Stewart


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